Friday, December 2, 2011

But He Doesn't Tell Me What the Sounds Mean [Chapter 12]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 12:

“Adam!” Fatima yelled from the kitchen to the rear of the house, toward the bedrooms, as she dried her hands on a dishtowel.

“Adam!” she repeated, louder, her eyebrows moving closer together with the effort.

No reply.

“Adam, Mr. Ishmael is here for your lessons. Come here!” her hands on her hips, head down.

Still no answer.

Fatima came into the family room, gave Ishmael an embarrassed, forced smile. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ll go get Adam.”

“Yes.” Ishmael smiled, nodding politely, rising ever so slightly off the comfortable sofa.

Fatima darted through the corridor that connected the entry and the kitchen, her long, loose skirt flapping floral patterns into the gray shadows. She moved quickly toward the bedrooms, her soft nurse’s shoes making no noise as they glided over the hard floor. She reached the door to Adam’s room, clutched the disc-shaped metal knob and stopped abruptly. The door was locked. Fatima rolled her eyes, placed a soft, open palm on the wooden door and called to her son, a concerned tone. “Adam? Adam?”

“Go away,” she heard his young voice on the other side.

“No, you come out right now.”

She waited.

“Open this door right now, Adam,” she insisted.

The hall became quiet, the door held its ground. Then she heard the key slowly turn, dry metal parts dragging across each other bit by bit, a rigid bolt moving out of its dark slot and back into the body of the door. She exhaled lightly, turning the knob, bracing, pushing away the stiff, wooden barrier that stood between them. Adam had backed away from the door, sitting on the edge of his small bed, across the room, angled away from her, looking out the window. He was barefoot, wearing his favorite gray shorts and a yellow T-shirt.

“Adam, I told you to come out and do your lessons with Mr. Ishmael.” She moved towards him gently and sat down next to him on the edge of his bed, placing a tender, open palm on his small shoulder.

“I don’t like him,” said Adam, staring at trees and sky.

“You don’t have to like him. You have to learn from him.”

“There’s nothing to learn.”

“Stop being difficult, Adam. Go to the family room.”

“He never tells me what the sounds mean!” Adam shouted.

“Shhhhhh.” She moved a hand towards his mouth quickly, her index finger pressed vertically across both his lips. “He’ll hear you,” she whispered, her face suddenly tense.

“So what!” yelled Adam.

“Adam, be quiet.” She glared at him and added, “Right now!” in a sharp, intent whisper.

They stared at each other, battling wills.

“Adam, what’s going on with you? You want to argue about everything these days — what you eat, what you wear, about praying...”

“I don’t want to pray anymore,” he quipped.

“Adam, you were a five-timer, you never missed a daily prayer. What happened? I was so proud of you. But ever since we got back from California…”

“Don’t talk about Dad!” he shouted.

“I didn’t say anything about Daddy,” Fatima said, adding angrily, “And what if I did? You don’t tell me what to talk about.”

“And you don’t tell me!”

“Adam, what’s wrong with you?”

“God took away Dad because Dad believed in him,” he said.

“Adam, that doesn’t make sense.”

“You don’t make sense. You don’t like me,” he said through small, clenched teeth. “You don’t pay attention.”

“You need to learn your prayers, Adam! We’re moving to America soon. And there’s no one there who can teach you prayers. I need you to learn here, before we go and there’s no one.” A profound sadness swept through her being and she hung her head, pleading in a whisper, “No one.”

Adam peered at his mother, perplexed, lost, helpless.

“Mom, I’ll go out,” he acquiesced, suddenly worried about his mother’s changed demeanor.

Fatima didn’t speak or move. Her head suddenly bowed in rippling waves of melancholy.

She broke the silence, a tone of realized finality. “No, Adam. Don’t go out there.”

“What?” he muttered, confused.

“Don’t do anything you don’t want to,” she said, not looking at him.

“Mom, are you OK?”

“I’ll pay Mr. Ishmael and tell him not to come back.”

“Mom, I’ll go out,” he said, a troubled submission. He fumbled through a long series of half-syllables and halted words, finally composing an unasked explanation. “He’s strange, Mom…it’s just...he never answers my questions…and he won’t tell me what the sounds mean, he just forces me to learn a bunch of sounds. But he doesn’t tell me what they mean. There’s a lot more to what words can mean…and sometimes a lot less.”

“There’s no need for this, Adam,” she said, not looking at him, holding an open palm in his direction, cutting short his unnecessary annotations. “Stay in here as long as you want.” Fatima stood, pointing to the floor adjacent to her son’s bed, wanting to make a symbolic assertion of her maternal authority. “And pick all these books up off the floor.”

She left in peace, slowly shutting the door to his room as he watched.

Adam was moved to voice one final disagreement at the closing door. “There is someone in America, Mom. Someone who’ll teach me to pray.”

The door closed.

Fatima moved back through the quiet corridor in a surrendered grace, passing the entry and the kitchen. She came into the large family room where Ishmael was waiting patiently.

“Mr. Ishmael,” she said, a polite professional.

Ishmael stood from the sofa, the creases in his long, white robe falling straight, a wide, greeting smile on his black-bearded brown face. “Yes, Mrs. Fatima?” he said pleasantly.

“Adam won’t be coming for lessons today.”

“Is he ill, Madam? Should I go to the drug store for medicines, maybe?” His Arabic accent commingled with a tinge of British.

“No,” Fatima replied, a slightly embarrassed mother with a proper smile on her face. She added in genuine gratitude, “But thank you for being kind.” The polite, matter-of-fact professional tone returned. “Mr. Ishmael, we’re moving to America. Adam will no longer need your lessons. Thank you for teaching him everything that you have. Here’s your fee for today’s lesson.” She put her hand forward, bills folded between her fingers. A second later the bills were gone.

“Perhaps the future will provide an opportunity for me to give Adam more lessons,” said Ishmael, being polite.

“Perhaps,” Fatima replied.

“America?” Ishmael said, head tilted, eyes wide, nodding slowly, his mouth pulled down at each end in reflection. “I once knew a lady from America — Amber,” he said in a fleeting, peculiar reminiscence.

“Will America allow you to raise little Adam a Muslim?” he asked, returning to the present.

“I’ve been there twice. You can raise yourself whatever you want. There aren’t any rules,” Fatima said.

“No written rules,” Ishmael agreed, persistent, his eyes squinted, pushed together by the forced, enormous smile decorating his long brown face. “But all the unwritten rules.”

Fatima said nothing.

The volley had flown out of bounds, lost, and Ishmael took one last swing at the air. “Will America make little Adam a Muslim or a Jew?”

“Is there really a difference,” said Fatima. In tone, delivery and intent, it was a statement rather than a question.


  1. Intriguing chapter!

    I'll have to go back and read the other segments--I want to know more about the family and Mr. Ishmael.

  2. Whoa..I liked it...getting attached to the characters already.:-)

  3. Thanks, Golden Eagle. BTW, I liked your recent post on cliches.

  4. Dear "Other Side of Me": thanks. Believe me, these characters go through quite a bit before "The End."

  5. Jennifer - it's always a treat to get a compliment from a beautiful woman :). Thank you!